We had several dietary rules on my mission to Chile in 1976. The major one was don’t drink the water. Bottled water, soda, etc was the norm. Boiled water was OK (cafe’ de trigo anybody?). Also, we could only eat fruit that could be pealed. No berries, unless they were soaked in a water solution that contained some antibacterial additive.
In the two years on my mission, I only missed one or two days due to illness. Pretty good record even if I had stayed home in California!
There is a video on Youtube that tells the story about a missionary that got sick in Nicaragua. It is a very slick video produced by the church under a program called “The Safety Zone”
The “Too Long Didn’t Watch” recap is that Sister Missionary goes to 3rd World country. Disobeys mission dietary rules, goes to doctor and told her stomach is damaged. Watch at 15:30 where she says she still has problems even months after she is home, and goes to her family MD who tells her she may have permanent damage. Then her Mission President’s wife calls her out and says “She broke the missions rules”
Who’s fault is it? The church for sending 18 and 19 year old kids to 3rd world countries, or the kids for not following the rules? She broke the rules during a visit to members, and didn’t want to offend them by refusing to eat what was offered. Couldn’t the local leaders have drilled this into the members that the gringo missioners are not to be offered food?
Do the native missionaries have the same rules as the gringos from the States? In my mission they did not. They could drink the water, as they had been drinking it since birth. It would have been easier if everybody was on the same rules.
While I see the benefit of this video, and trying to drive home the importance of following the health guidelines for your mission, it seems like lawyers got involved in this. It feels to me like the LDS church trying to place blame on the missionary and absolve themselves of any culpability in missionary illness.
What are your thoughts?
My dear, sweet niece was sent to the Philippines on her mission about ten years ago. Her mission president who was a native insisted that the missionaries eat the same food as the people that they were living among and teaching. He particularly stressed that the missionaries eat whatever they were served. My niece was lactose intolerant and told the MP as well as the mission nurse that she had severe gastrointestinal troubles if she ate even the tiniest bit of dairy products. Struggling with the Tagalog language she asked the mission nurse to inform her Filipino sister companions of this health challenge so that they in turn could let the families who invited them to dinner know that my niece couldn’t eat any food with dairy in it. What my niece didn’t know until later on was that her first three native companions thought that she was just being a spoiled and picky American, so they made sure to tell the families who invited them to dinner that my niece loved any food that had dairy in it. Not knowing what went into the making of the food, of course she got violently ill every time they ate out, and because her grasp of the language wasn’t good she continued to get sicker and sicker without understanding why. In five months she lost 45 pounds and couldn’t keep any food down. She collapsed while tracting and was taken to a hospital. Tests were run on her and the doctor who cared for her called my brother and his wife and told them that their daughter was deathly ill and that she should return to the US as soon as possible.
My brother called the mission president who wasn’t even aware that his missionary was even in the hospital. To say that my brother was incensed is an understatement. He immediately called the Missionary Department in Salt Lake and told them about his two phone calls. My niece was put on a plane the very same day, and when she touched down in Salt Lake she was immediately taken to a hospital. It was discovered that her GI tract was severely pitted as a result of her unknowingly eating dairy so often plus she’d picked up worms and intestinal parasites as a result of eating what the native Filipinos ate. It was touch and go for over a month. There were a couple of times that we nearly lost her. When she was released from the hospital she looked like a skeleton such as you would see in a concentration camp. To this day she has severe and permanent health problems.
The Missionary Department called the mission president and asked him to account for what had happened to his missionary who had nearly died. He called in my niece’s companions to find out what they could tell him about how my niece got so sick. The truth came out about the “joke” they’d played on my niece. Fortunately, these petty sisters were sent home from their missions. When my niece was finally able to tell her side of the story she told the powers that be about her MP’s insistence on all of the missionaries eating the native food and never turning down anything that was offered to them to eat. The Missionary Department had already heard about the “joke” and quietly released the president and sent someone else to take his place.
It’s my opinion that the Church has no business sending American or other industrialized nation missionaries to third world countries if there are already native speaking missionaries already in those countries. My now deceased neighbor who was on the science faculty at BYU would write the leaders of the Church just about every year begging them to either teach the missionaries hygiene courses as a part of their missionary training at the very least, and to get missionaries from industrialized nations out of third world nations for their own health and well-being. In the forty or so years that he said that he wrote letters to the top he never got a concrete answer. Surely our missionaries’ lives should be precious enough to us as a church to not put them in harm’s way. To do otherwise is wanton and reckless, and the Church will have to account to our Heavenly Parents for putting young people in unhealthy and dangerous situations needlessly.
When on my mission in Central America I got the fleas. We were working and living in a notoriously bad area. I reported my illness to the mission president and his wife for weeks and it fell on deaf ears. Finally after insisting, I got to see a doctor. He then chewed me out for working in those areas and thought i was stupid to spend time in unsafe areas.
Then the mission president and his wife chewed us out and stated we needed to be cleaner and if we were we would not have fleas.
What?????? You live in your nice upper class house and force us to live in the shantytown.
Is it the individual missionary or the completly broken mormon mission system. It should be obvious to anyone over 12 years old.
I have 10 more personal health stories from my mission and a 100 from my companions.
Everyone needs to step up…..tell your story….this is the only way the LDS church will change. The cambio web site is a small start.
Fastforward to 2020. My niece was reassigned from her international mission to Boise. We thought the missionaries are aupposed to stay in their apartments and do only video chats. But, no. They are out and about personally meeting investigators. Well now she has COVID19 with symptoms.
Who is taking the responsibilty???
The church has played this game of blaming the missionaries for 50+ years. If it goes south then blame the mission president. Never will Q15 take responsibilty for bad policies and systems.
Someone needs this to be the newspaper front page news to get a change.
They say trust in the system….unril you have personal experience and find you can not truat the LDS mission system. The kids are told…not to tell their parents.
The church never told me or my fellow missionaries about h pylori- a bacteria that approximately 50% of the world is infected with (primarily in underdeveloped countries). It causes ulcers and is a high risk factor for cancer. Missionaries should be warned of it and tested upon return. The cure is a wickedly strong cocktail of several antibiotics taken together over several months.
Why doesn’t the church mandate (and pay for) physicals for all RMs? The church should also provide a physician’s checklist of travel conditions/diseases specific to each mission. My rural doctor would never have known how to treat persons returning from the exotic places my siblings and I served in.
A poor wayfaring stranger’s post is a humbling rebuke of our failing safety and health measures- complicated by cultural and administrative gaps.
To a poor wayfaring stranger and your family. I am so sorry that you have had to wxperience all this. My heart goes out to you.
Everyone please tell your stories.
Side note – Third world is an antiquated and insulting term from the Soviet era.
I feel like the Church can be really good and things when it is motivated. Genealogy, indexing, global broadcasts, statistics of members, meticulous records.
When it comes to missionaries and health, they seem to go the cheapskate route. Add to that the stigma of coming home from a mission early for “medical reasons” (members interpreting that as not being able to tough it out) along with mission presidents and wives who sometimes abuse their standing and you have a recipe for disaster
I don’t have any recommendations on how to fix it but it is certainly an issue
I served in Nicaragua 20 years ago and still have health issues from that. I am sorry but it is unfair to blame the missionary when the whole mission was set up to eat with members all of the time.
We only got 100 dollars a month when I was there, which wasn’t enough to buy all of our own food. We relied on the kindness and support of members and nonmembers.
I loved my mission but if the church really wanted us to be healthy they would have gotten us apartments with running water and places to cook our own food. And enough $ to do that.
Church leaders follow the popular business philosophy espoused by Trump, Robert Kiyosaki, and many others, which is that when something goes wrong, you or someone else is to blame.
I also served in South America over 20 years ago, and the mission rules for food were very similar to those in the OP. But the word in my mission was that pretty much every American would get sick at the beginning of their mission no matter how well they followed the rules. Sure enough, I got sick after two weeks there, and I lost 15 pounds by the time I’d been in the country for a month. Every six months the missionaries were given “the bomb,” which I believe was a series of antibiotic and anti-parasitic pills. When I got home from my mission I had terrible digestive problems that no doctor could help me with. Years after I got home, my mom urged me to call Salt Lake because she was certain they would offer help for RMs who were still having health problems. The woman who I talked to was sympathetic, but there was nothing she could do.
I hate that the Church is trying to blame the missionaries if we end up with permanent health problems. I tried so hard to follow the rules, but it seems to me that missionaries got sick in my mission no matter what. I am glad that I served, but I don’t think I will ever recover from the damage done to my pipes.
I wonder if we have lost sight of the true nature of missionary work. Historically, missionaries were adults who volunteered to serve and accepted any risks as part of their consecration. Is this still true? I think so. Missionaries are neither (1) minors with the church in loco parentis; nor (2) church employees or agents. Of course, care, caution, and counsel are always appropriate. Safety is important. Agency is important. May God bless and protect all the missionaries.
@ji: You have a point worth stating, but for most of the twentieth century and all of the twenty-first LDS culture has (especially along the Mormon Corridor) placed heavy social pressure on would-be missionaries to serve as soon as they meet the minimum age requirement. At 18 or 19 years of age, most missionaries aren’t fully independent adults able to accept these risks wholly voluntarily. Moreover, the oft-stated dictum that “every worthy, able-bodied young man has a priesthood duty to serve a mission” places such a heavy sacral weight on going on a mission that the choice to serve can feel heavily coerced both from a societal perspective and from a theological perspective. For many missionaries, it is only “voluntary” in the sense that the Church, unlike the State, has no power to enforce mission calls and therefore chooses not to extend calls to young missionaries who have not put their papers in. Not even mission presidents truly volunteer; they’re voluntold instead.
When the Church puts such heavy emphasis on missionary work and has developed such an extensive missionary program worldwide, it is entirely appropriate to expect the Church to do what it can to mitigate the risks of service. In that context, it is (not entirely, but somewhat) disingenuous to claim that the Church has no responsibilities with respect to young missionaries “in loco parentis”. Given their responsibilities and their name tags, it is also a willful misrepresentation to say that missionaries are not “agents” of the Church, except in some strict legal definition of the word “agent.” Finally, the equalized mission financing system means that most missionaries are in a practical sense Church employees. Their food, rent, transportation, and proselyting materials expenses are paid by the Church (largely through donations, it is true), and many of their medical expenses are also paid by the Church. They are not employees only in the sense that the living stipend is inadequate and the take-home pay is zero (thus allowing the Church not to claim them as employees).
Served in rural Guatemala 93-95. This was towards the end of their civil war. By some estimates – at the time – that country was the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and the average male lifespan was about 20 years.
I got sick about twice a month, usually from contaminated food or water. I had worms. I had fleas. We had violent diarrhea missionaries called “BU” which had two meanings. It was sudden, explosive, and an acronym for butt urine. I bathed about 3 times a week, but a couple of times went a whole week w/o bathing because of unreliable water. We had few rules about food except that we couldn’t eat tamales because sometimes they had undercooked pork. One elder almost died after eating a tamal. We also had no water heaters and so missionaries frequently jury rigged dangerous heating elements from extension cords which were submerged to heat the water. We frequently hitch hiked and worked in dangerous areas.
My daughter was serving a mission in Brazil until about 4 months ago when she was reassigned to California. She actually went to a Brazilian hospital twice and she said that the hospital might have made her worse in both cases. She lived and worked in a favela that had just opened to sisters.
I don’t know what to say. I’m no TBM but I don’t know how the church could reach poor people all over the world without fundamentally changing the missionary model and making missions significantly more expensive.
Until the mindset changes that missionaries are protected by God, and that health is secondary to converts, dangerous missions will continue to exist, especially in third world countries.
We need to start a conversation on h pylori infections and the need to be tested (especially of you served in any underdeveloped country). 50% of the world is infected (more so I’m underdeveloped parts of the world) and it causes ulcers and a higher likelihood of gastroenterological cancers. How many missionaries do you know that developed digestive pain, ulcers, etc? Aside from parasites, this should be checked and treated. RMs need physicals when they return home. Full stop. The church needs to provide a checklist for physicians reviewing the health of RMs from all over the world. They can pay to buy the copyright for some sort of authoritative resource that they can send to the primary care provider and the missionary. Our rural physician had no idea how to treat my siblings and I as we returned from extremely remote parts of the globe. And, the church needs to pay for this outboarding-checkup. Again, full stop.
Any harm that befalls a missionary is tragic. Particularly so when it is permanent. The inequalities that have produced a “3rd world” are also tragic, regardless of whether they affect rich, white, American kids. I didn’t see it this way when I served, but now, I realize that my mission call (to the West Indies and the Guianas) was an invitation to step down from my 1st-world (and white) privilege, imperfectly and for a time. I owe a tremendous amount of my worldview, politics, and faith to that experience. It would not have been the same without the real risk that the tragedies inherent in poverty (disease, violence, natural disasters) might befall me personally. For the most part, they did not, and I am truly sorry for those who are permanently harmed by their missionary service.
But more privilege hoarding cannot be the answer.
It is critical that our children and grandchildren serve missions in developing countries. My son served in the Philippines. My son-in-law served in Colombia. My grandson was serving in Chuuk (Micronesia) until he was evacuated. I’m very proud of them for their service (as we are those who served in Florida and Quebec). They all loved their missions and the local people. And have lifelong friends. It is important that members in developed countries understand the struggles of members and nonmembers in developing countries. That is where the Church is experiencing its greatest growth.
I live 2 months a year in sub-Saharan Africa, spending much of my time in very remote locations living on the local economy. I also spend time in a variety of other developing countries around the world. I frequently take my grandchildren with me. It is possible to do it safely. But yes, there are risks. But my grandchildren need to know there is a world outside of Happy Valley, Utah.
The Church needs to do a better job of training missionaries headed to developing countries. And it needs to provide better training to MPs and other leaders. The idea that the Lord looks after missionaries needs to be de-emphasized. In lieu of that idea, missionaries need to be taught that they need to take care of themselves. And members need to understand that missionaries have dietary restrictions. That well cooked and pealed food is important. Bottled water is critical. And if the missionaries don’t eat their food, it is not an insult.
I was writing in a legal sense. What I wrote isn’t popular (see the downvotes), but I believe it is correct. Any discussion of this matter must recognize this truth to be a fruitful and meaningful discussion — although admittedly I may err in discerning the type of discussion that is wanted.
Ji, I think your legal focus is exactly the problem. Is “it might be dangerous and unsafe but it’s technically legal” the standard we think should apply to church leaders who claim to act for and as directed by God? I don’t think anyone here has insisted that the church should be held legally liable for what happened here (although I think that’s up for debate). I think we are claiming it is morally wrong for the church to put young people in this position and then blame them when things go wrong. If legality is the stick by which we measure the church’s conduct that’s a pretty pathetically low bar, and victim blaming is not a good look for the church.
I certainly have learned I will never trust my child’s physical emotional or mental health to church leaders. I’m appalled that the church would put out this kind of victim-blaming, fear-based propaganda.
I didn’t serve in a developing country but I did get very sick on my mission. When I told the mission president’s wife (she was the contact point for illness) she totally brushed me off. I was fairly new and maybe she just thought I was a complainer. In reality I was a 22 yr old college grad who’d lived independently for a long time, and definitely not a hypochondriac, who was the sickest I’d ever been. In hindsight I should have pushed harder and insisted I see a doctor but I was too ashamed by being brushed off and didn’t want to make trouble. I was sick for over 2 months with what I realized several years later (because I got it again) was bronchitis. I didn’t have any lasting health problems but if I had just been given some medication and allowed to rest (I got neither) I would have recovered much quicker as I did when I got it again and had access to medical treatment. Again not a huge deal for my life, and no lasting impact, but goes to show how not seriously missionary health problems are taken and how unlikely young people are to assert their own healthcare rights and interests when they are taught to revere their MP’s and other leadership.
I know many people who have lifelong health problems after serving in third world countries. It’s not something that anyone talks about, though, and I’m not sure how we can claim missionaries have consented to such risks when the church is not forthcoming about them.
A $100-Billion-Dollar non-profit belief system is a bullseye for litigation.
Mine isn’t food related, but I also suffered harm on my mission that is still with me today. I served in the US, so it’s not limited to developing countries. I was in a rural area far from the mission home, and my trainer was verbally and emotionally abusive. The stress of the abuse, combined with the lack of an opportunity to get outside help, caused damage to my adrenals. I didn’t know it at the time; it took several years afterward to be diagnosed, but I have permanent damage. I have good times and bad times, but when I have a flare-up I’m incapacitated for weeks or months at a time because my body can’t produce enough cortisol to function.
We talk about how missionary service is “God’s Army”. But we don’t talk about those of us who got wounded in the service. There’s no spiritual purple heart; instead we blame the victim to avoid doing serious and necessary introspection.
The fault of the abuse I suffered lies squarely with my abuser, but if the structure of the mission had been different, I would have been able to get help sooner and might not have suffered the damage that I did.
Ji said: “May God bless and protect all the missionaries.” Well, 99% of the time, doesn’t God work through other people? And who are the people who are uniquely placed to protect the missionaries? The Missionary Department of the Church!
These stories are making me glad that I (a female) did not go on a mission, and that my sons also won’t (for various reasons.) But I agree with Mortimer that returned missionaries need a check-up when they get home, and that the church should pay for it. The church should also pay for treatment for illnesses and injuries that came about because of the mission. I also agree with rogerdhansen that the Church needs to do a better job of training missionaries, MP’s and other leaders about possible health hazards, especially in the Third World. Also, blaming the victim is never a good look. Yes, the young people might have made mistakes, but how much of that can be put down to the “mission culture” and could have been avoided with better training?
“A $100-Billion-Dollar non-profit belief system is a bullseye for
There. Fixed that for you!
Any organization so affluent based on the contributions of the faithful should NOT be exploiting the children fo their benefactors. Those kids might go out on missions because they feel that’s a contribution they have to make and because they can offer something of inestimable value to others but they should be valued for the generous and precious souls they are. They should be protected and, at the very LEAST, provided with adequate housing — even if it’s not to a standard they’re accustomed to in the US — and LISTENED to when they have personal needs.
If they live better than the people they are proselytizing to, then they can be an example of what the local people can aspire to in their earthly lives. And if the church were, with its $100Billion Dollars, an agent to change local economies and living conditions then they would truly be doing HF’s work!
I find it despicable that the church would make a video blaming someone who got ill.
The better approach would be a video featuring a physician (Dr. Nelson) Instructing and explaining to missionaries why it is important they follow health and dietary guidelines diligently.
more training in this area for those in charge of the missions and missionary medical assistants.
Ideally, there should be full disclosure to the missionary before they accept a calling to serve.
I am not advocating for anything in this thread. But for a fruitful and meaningful discussion, it helps if the foundation is understood.
Something to think about: if any country does start treating missionaries as (1) minors with the church in loco parentis or (2) employees or agents of the church, instead of as adult volunteers, then it would probably mean that missionary work in that country would end.
But I agree that some missionaries (and some of their parents) do not understand the legal basis of missionary work. I am not sure that all mission presidents historically have understood this. I greatly value the consecration that our missionaries make, and agree that they should be treated with dignity and respect.
Ji, thanks for that explanation. I don’t at all understand why that means the church can’t or shouldn’t (1) more fully disclose health risks for missionaries before they choose to accept a call; (2) provide access to healthcare for missionaries (I know when I was a missionary, since I was in a foreign country, I would have had no way to access healthcare on my own – which is why the church calls mission doctors); (3) provide training for missionaries, leaders, and members on safety and sanitation; (4) provide enough monthly funds for missionaries to purchase and prepare safe food; (5) provide safe housing (again, this is something a missionary has no control over and is entirely up to the church to provide); (6) take care of missionaries who return home with health problems; and (7) not produce videos that blame victims.
I don’t view any of those actions as somehow changing the legal status of missionaries so I guess I just don’t understand what that point adds as foundation to a meaningful discussion. And I don’t know why any organization would not provide that very minimal standard to its adult volunteers. Too often the church gets a pass because it claims God will take care of everything and calls are inspired and people don’t feel comfortable publicly speaking about bad things that happen to missionaries (and the church itself surely doesn’t – except I guess here to blame the victim). That’s manipulative and the furthest thing from Christlike.
Elisa, I’m with you on (1) through (5) and (7). I’m cautious about (6).
I don’t think church leaders are being manipulative — I think they truly want to be Christ-like.
Well, this post has evidently touched a nerve. A few observations, based on my own missionary experience, and the experiences of my children who served missions:
I served in Taiwan between 1977-1979, as an older missionary of 25. Taiwan was then not the advanced, prosperous, and developed place that it is now, and hygiene was quite poor. Our mission had a cadre of about six Welfare Services missionaries, nicknamed “health missionaries.” All sisters, most recently-graduated RNs. A big part of their job was helping missionaries stay healthy; this included painful Gamma Globulin shots every three months.
The missionary force was 80 percent Elders, 20 percent Sisters. The Sisters were not a problem, but some of the Elders were. They lacked basic notions of good health practices, street foods that should have been avoided, hygiene, and conservative traffic safety in a place where driving was still like a Wild West shootout, and one had to be careful riding a bike. My point is that young, immature Elders often do unhealthy and unsafe things, and sometimes they do things that make themselves ill, and to make a video warning against that is NOT despicable.
My awareness of self-inflicted missionary health problems was reinforced when, still living in Maryland, my wife and I made monthly visits as service missionaries to inspect missionaries’ apartments. We learned that Elders’ hygiene and safety and health practices were often appalling, resulting in our sometimes making phone calls to the senior missionaries working in the Mission Office, that thing needed to be cleaned up with Elders X and Y, figuratively and literally.
Having said that, I am all too aware personally of many missionaries with health problems who have been treated shabbily by the Church’s system for missionary health.
My own daughter was totally up front on her missionary application about her congenital back problems, and underwent almost a year of physical therapy and chiropractic care, to get ready for her mission. She was called to serve a European mission, and after six months of walking up and down all day on the steep hills of the city where she was assigned, her back problems resumed. Her Mission President did not want to deal with the situation, and considered sending her home. Her angry father informed the Mission President that we had been totally candid about my daughter’s back problems, since the beginning, and she had supposedly been called by inspiration to that Mission, taking her back problems into consideration, and could he kindly help my daughter out; I had excellent health insurance that would pay for chiropractic care on a weekly basis. At that point, the Mission President’s wife got actively involved, and was extremely helpful in getting my daughter the care she needed to finish her mission. The MP later had the good grace to apologize to my daughter. He had simply been busy, overwhelmed, and uninformed, and had consequently almost made a bad decision.
So, the issue of how a MP and his wife deal with missionary health is much like the Church’s “Bishop’s Roulette” problem. Some are good at the job, some are bad.
The incident that makes me the most angry concerned a missionary in Taiwan in the 1990s, when I lived there post-mission with my family. A missionary developed malignant skin cancer (melanoma) in its early stages. The Mission President’s wife did not want the missionary to return to the U. S. for treatment, believing that the Taiwan health system could deal with the problem adequately. The missionary’s outraged mother, a former MP’s wife, herself, insisted that her missionary child return to the US immediately, and it was a darned good thing she did, because several melanomas that had been missed in Taiwan, were discovered in the US. I am not talking about basal skin cancers, but melanomas that, left unchecked, would have been life-threatening.
When the missionary returned to Taiwan to finish their service, the attitude of the MP’s wife was galling; she still believed that the family had overreacted. And the MP’s wife was a good woman! Just a good woman who had been poised to make a very bad decision that could have had life-threatening consequences.
So, again, MP’s roulette.
The big issue today, I feel, is a missionary health system that defaults to a “one size fits all” approach, and often does not deal with individual problems on a case-by-case basis. The Church, I feel, is increasingly unwilling to deal with problems, at all. I suspect the cost of health care is a big factor.
I really disagree with the practice of having mission presidents’ wives be in charge of medical decisions and giving out medical advice. Few are qualified to do this. Missionaries should always be able to seek medical care without going through these women.
Legally, you kind of half to have a bright line when people are able to make their own decisions, but that doesn’t mean they are ready to do so without help. It concerns me that missionaries, barely at the age of majority, not even old enough to rent a car in most cases, are isolated from their parents and treated as if they are really fully capable of making these decisions without assistance from family. We even call the men “Elders”, as if they have been wisened by many years.
At 18 yrs old, they may be legally able to make self determined decisions, but their brains are still developing. The frontal lobe, which handles executive function, is still developing sometimes into a persons twenties.
It seems like the church is taking advantage of this fact, having the missionaries in a highly controlled environment at a time when they are still malleable. Legally speaking, the missionaries are responsible for themselves, but ethically and morally speaking the church bears some responsibility precisely because the church is using them at this impressionable time when they are just barely of legal majority.
Things might be a bit better now that missionaries can call home more frequently. Things may be moving in a positive direction. I don’t really know.
My family joined the church when I was 10. My father had a business building houses, and motels on the Gold Coast in Australia. Within 2 years we were on a building mission in Scotland.
Building supervisors were usually retired Americans called for 2 years. There was a small allowance to help an old couple manage.
My parents had 4 sons, so the allowance didn’t cover, and the 2 years didn’t apply. So they sold our home, to live on. We went on the mission in 1960, and when I went on my mission in 1968, my father had just got a salaried position with the church supervising other building supervisors. He worked for the church for the rest of his working life.
During my highschool years, we built 4 chapels, and finished off a number where the American supervisor had gone home before the chapel was complete. I attended 4 highschools, in 2 different countries with 4 different curriculums. Which pretty much damaged my education. I was not up to university standard, when I finished high school.
My father saw himself as serving the Lord so worked 80 hours a week, so that there would not be times when members were able to volunteer, and he was not there to supervise them. To see him I usually spent 12 or 15 hours a week at the building site working. We could not afford holidays. I was upset a couple of years ago to find one of the prophets spent his spare time fly fishing. Spare time?
When I put in my mission papers we were finishing a chapel, and I was called to the mission where the church moved my family to for dads new position(revelation?) so dad and I visited the mission president, and I got reassigned to the Irish mission, where there was a war between the catholics and protestants, raging.
I did meet my wife where the last chapel was built.
No one has yet raised the cost benifit. 4 chapels built v 4 educations damaged (none of my brothers went to university either), and my father didn’t recover financially on a church salary. I spent 2 years in Ireland, where we baptised 2 single sisters, and one young family. I don’t know if any are active.
JI, I don’t think the leaders do this maliciously. But they claim to do it through revelation, and the results often undermine the likelyhood that God was involved in the process.
Geoff-Aus….your story shows one of the big picture problems with mormon thinking. The leadershop obligates you and even covenants you to sacrifice and give up everthing for the church. It does not matter if it is your health, finances, education, time, energy, safety, family, etc. They want it all.
But the top leadership does not give up what they ask from its members. They live in luxurious homes paid through members sacrifice. Get social prestige and the honor of men with titles and love to sit on the stand. They get the whole month of July off to vacation. They get a hefty pension. They get a new car every year. They get an annual budget to remodel their houses. Travel first class.
The one big thing they sacrifice is their families. If you asked their spouces, or kids how they truly feel. They would rather have their family (husband/father) back than a high demanding church calling
So back to the original question…why does the church not change the missionary health system? They easily can and even afford to do such. It is by intent…they want to keep one in the system by creating losses to oneself and then one not quitting after investing so much in the church. (I forgot what that principle in psychology is called.)
Not everyone has these abusive relationships on their missions or in church….but once you have … your eyes are open and you can see the LDS church is not what it proclaims to be. They do not provide basic carre or safety for their own missionaries.
They do not care about your physical or mental health…because if they did they would act differently.
Like Elisa, I got bronchitis on my mission. It took a while, but I was eventually able to see a doctor (I was in the US) and get antibiotics. I was depressed at the same time, though, overwhelmed as a new missionary away from home for the first time and with my support system removed. I remember having a feeling of resignation when I started to get sick, and I hoped that maybe I could die, and then I’d have gotten out of my mission early. It sounds melodramatic, I know. But I really didn’t want to be there. Anyway, I think there are clearly both physical and mental health costs to missions, and I so wish the Church would take this unique time as an opportunity to re-think them from the ground up. It doesn’t look like that’s happening, though. It seems like we’ll continue to have the attitude that “Some of you may die, but it is a sacrifice I am willing to make.”
@ziff, it was not at all uncommon on my mission for people to admit that at least at the beginning there were times they wished they got sick or injured enough to get an honorable release (but to ultimately be OK). This is not discussed enough.
We can and should do hard things but we need to be transparent with missionaries about what they are getting themselves into. There is no true consent without transparency. (Add to that the enormous social and cultural pressure and I’m not sure you can say there’s much consent at all for missionaries choosing to serve. We should not forget that.)
@faith – frightening but true about how the sacrifice makes you more loyal in some weird way.
Can we add bike safety to the discussion?
In May an elder in the Tennessee Knoxville Mission was killed (hit and run) near Lafayette, Georgia. Several people from Georgia commented on the Salt Lake Tribune’s Facebook post of the newspaper article:
Cindy: “ This happened at 9:30 pm in pitch black dark on a 5 lane highway with no shoulder or bike lanes in a rural area. Hopefully the driver will turn themselves in but most likely never knew they hit this poor kid as there are no street lights in this area & and most of these kids are wearing dark suits while on the bicycles. Prayers to his family.”
Eric’ “ …Here is a link on google maps GA-1 just north of Lafayette which is where the accident happened. This location might not be the correct place, because there is no indication in the article. The only speed limit sign I saw stated a 45mph limit. This type of road is certainly very unsafe to travel as a pedestrian or on bicycle. Caleb was very likely following the rule of the road when he was struck.
April: “ My husband saw these gentleman just before this accident happened. They were riding on a highway in the pitch black of 9:30 at night, wearing dark colors. He was very close to them before he ever saw them and was able to go around. When he was returning from his destination, he saw the emergency vehicles. I’m not blaming them, and I hope they find and fully prosecute whoever did this, but this accident could likely have been prevented with better safety equipment.”
Cindy: “ Eric pretty close. If you look in about the 3200 block would give you a better pic of the area and it is 55 there but treated more like the autobahn.“
(The missionary’s name is McKay, not Caleb.)
Can the church provide high quality personal and bike lighting, reflective backpacks, reflective helmets, helmet lights, and any other equipment for our vulnerable missionaries? Teach them defensive driving? Create a culture that safety is an expectation?
Missionaries are protected just like spiritual seagulls will devour the COVID crickets…
My cousin is newly serving in the Europe Area as a “mission leader” with her husband but I would not trust her with the health of my kids, even though she is a career blonde Utah County mom. Was that too harsh?
On my mission, I found myself peeing blood (which may have resulted from wandering onto a snowy University of Michigan football field uninvited and goofing around a bit). I didn’t even call the MP until I was in the hospital – it didn’t even occur to me to start with him. Probably because I had tried to get permission for shoes with a lug sole (I have mobility issues and was slipping and falling in the snow with my approved leather-soled shoes). It had to go up through the Missionary Department for approval – OK as long as the boots could “maintain a shine”.
17 years ago my son was having serious health problems on his mission. His MP really gave us the runaround. It got to the point that our stake president told us to fly out to Arkansas to pick him up – and call the MP from the airport. MP was pissed.
Even with an honorable medical release, he was never asked to accompany high council speakers as is traditional when missionaries come home. He still feels some stigma of not being a *real* returned missionary.
Missionaries are said to be God’s army – but too often that translates into cannon fodder. My MP’s wife was also charged with missionary health – but she was a firm believer in the healing power of crystals and other unconventional remedies. From working in the mission office I know that MPs spend a disproportionate amount of time with “problem” missionaries. Unfortunately, that often colors their perceptions of missionaries’ legitimate problems.
“ Can the church provide high quality personal and bike lighting, reflective backpacks, reflective helmets, helmet lights, and any other equipment for our vulnerable missionaries? Teach them defensive driving? Create a culture that safety is an expectation?”
Or, how about just providing safe transportation?
(I remember years ago giving the missionaries rides when they had reached their monthly maximum miles in their car on our winding and vast country roads.
“ Even with an honorable medical release, he was never asked to accompany high council speakers as is traditional when missionaries come home. He still feels some stigma of not being a *real* returned missionary.”
That is just so wrong.
I’m sorry your son was treated that way.
My son also came home early, but wasn’t treated like your son. My biggest worry was that he would feel inferior and beat himself up too. Your son is/was a real missionary.
(I’m guessing the numbers of early return missionaries has increased since we lowered the age).
Cars are not the only answer. rogerdhansen discusses some underlying benefits of our missionary force serving in developing nations. Similarly, there are underlying benefits of riding bikes. Broader acceptance of commuting by bicycle is desirable. Riding bikes decreases our dependence on fossil fuel, improves air quality, reduces road maintenance, improves individual’s physical health, improves mental health, etc. There can be long-term personal benefit for missionaries (and anyone) to develop a pattern of commuting by bike.
We need to improve bicycling safety, teach defensive driving. And add in some commuting by public transportation.
Another thing to think about (maybe this has already been addressed here) is the huge disparity of experience between one missionary and another. I served my mission on Okinawa. Bike was my primary means of transportation (this was before Okinawa built a rail system). I had a high-quality bike that I purchased from the mission home. It was safe, although I didn’t always ride it safely. Biking all over that island was one of the best parts of my mission. And, this was Japan! A wealthy and advanced nation with many great amenities and conveniences. The food was great. The people were kind. I left at 140 lbs, and with after a bit of normal fluctuation, I returned home at 140 lbs, well-fed and comfortable, minus a bit of digestive trouble that quickly worked itself out.
My friend went to Colombia. He came back and looked like he was shell-shocked. He was a ghost. Physically, he seemed fine. Mentally, he was hollowed out. It took him years to recover from whatever he went through.
Another friend was in the Dominican Republic. She had nothing to eat except beans and rice for the final months of her mission. She came home very ill.
They talk of Bishop Roulette. There is also Mission Roulette. And it can be deadly.
Everyone has a story. And to some missionaries, serving in Grand Junction, Colorado, or Boise, Idaho, is just as traumatic as serving in Africa or elsewhere. Every missionary has a story regarding what it’s like outside “Happy Valley”. How many of you heard, growing up, that there was an extra layer of protection surrounding our missionaries?
I had a neighbor who desperately wanted to serve a mission, but suffered from Crohn’s. After at least a 2-year delay, he was finally able to serve in a state-side mission which he loved. I had a brother-in-law from Wyoming who was born with water on the brain and other major physical and mental issues. He ended up serving a mission in…wait for it…Salt Lake City UT. And one more example, a friend of my son’s whose mother was petrified that her son would be called to serve a mission in a foreign country that was a dangerous place. He got his call…wait for it…South Side Chicago Spanish Speaking. How dangerous do you think his mission ended up?
We send missionaries throughout the world and there is bound to be problems. Mission Roulette seems to be a good choice of words.
A few notes from a document my missionary child was given before starting (recently):
(Apart from insurance) “All health related services provided to missionaries that are paid for by the Church are paid with tithing dollars”
No doctor/ER visit without clearance from the mission nurse, and some warning of a copay assessed for an unnecessary visit and the fact that “very few visits need to be made to the ER.”
Anybody heard of telemedicine? No missionary should be without the ability to consult with medical officials in a timely manner. With the Internet widely available, and cellphone coverage going global, there is no excuse for poor medical advise to young missionaries. Now that most missionaries have been temporarily evacuated from developing countries, it is a great time to improve medical support systems.
If the church wants to claim they pay for missionary health services, they are not telling the truth. When they state they care about the young persons health….it is also not true.
My sons on missions one internationally and one in USA, were constantly hounded about having a current health insurance card. Then when one son went to the doctor in Arizona for an annual checkup at his 1 year mark (to which we entirely paid for)….he was chewed out and was told by his mission president that it was unnecessary to go to a doctor for preventive care during his mission and that should have been entirely taken care of prior to the mission. The missionaries were not to spend their time going to the doctor. We were in shock!!
The church leadership is full of hypocrites. The worst members are called as mission presidents. Full of nepotism and crony ultra-wealthy members without common sense.
When my son in Mexico this past March we told him to not shake peoples hands and to keep distance. Again chewed out by mission president wife…..we were over reacting and the COVID19 virus was not going to affect Mexico. ………he was send home 2 weeks later………. who receives inspiration for the missionaries ??????? Not the church leaders.
Good point about telemedicine from rogerdhansen. It’s also helpful to know that there are travel clinics associated with certain large hospital systems/medical schools. The University of Utah hospital has a travel clinic where missionaries can obtain a pre-travel consultation prior to their mission and obtain pertinent information for avoiding infectious diseases common in their mission areas and receive appropriate vaccinations. Following the mission, missionaries can go for a post-travel consultation and receive care for conditions they may have developed on their missions.
The CDC has a site where travel clinic information is available for clinics in the US. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/find-clinic